October 26, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News Readers. In today’s Daily, a somber reminder of the many families in Israel and Gaza who don’t have the luxury of a hug with their little ones, tossing a ball outside or browsing their favorite online newsletters. 

Also in this edition: Brain tumors masquerade as disordered eating, what one 23-year-old reporter gained after 48 hours without his smartphone, the alarming rise of teen boys being extorted for sexting. and more. 

Two Fathers Trapped in Hell

Make it plain is what the people shout to the preacher in my Black Baptist church when he tells a truth that nobody can deny. War is hell; ain’t no other way to say it. Family members I’ve met and loved survived combat during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. But they don’t tell the stories. They simply say, “War is worse than bad: It’s hell.” Most Americans, myself included, live in the privilege of having no clue what war really does to a life. But we’re not alone in the world. And the fact is, real people in Gaza and Israel are living in a hell they didn’t choose or create.

via Twitter

In Gaza, poet Mosab Abu Toha of Beit Lahia risked death on October 12th to return to his bombed home to retrieve a loaf of bread for his family, which had run out of food. He bought it two days before Israel escalated response attacks in the Gaza Strip. The day he took home the bread, the streets outside his windows were filled with children playing marbles and soccer. He could go outside and pick fruit from the trees his father planted years before—guava, lemon, orange, peach, and mango. But as he rode his bike the ten minutes from “refuge” to the building that once housed his family, Toha—a husband, father, scholar, and gifted writer—wondered if he’d make it there and back alive. 

Yoni Asher might trade places with Toha if he could. Amid the first attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas militants, his wife, toddler daughters, and mother-in-law were taken hostage. He is terrified and fearful for their safety, spending the first 15 hours unable to eat or sleep, frantically calling everyone he knew “who would listen and share the news and photos of his family.” Since that day, October 8th, he’s spent every waking moment pleading for their safe return. Food is no longer his sustenance, but rather the images of his daughters; one’s boundless energy and love for chocolate, the other’s delight in singing and dancing. “They are amazing – the best a dad could hope for,” he says, like a mantra.

via Twitter

Toha and Asher are two fathers. Their love for their families is no different from that which we carry for our own. But today Toha and Asher awoke in hell. We, in America, did not.  

Sometimes an eating disorder is really hiding a brain tumor

Our bodies are amazing, sending messages to us in such odd and remarkable ways. Consider the case of a 17-year-old girl in this column from Psychology Today. The teen’s parents worried she had an eating disorder. She’d restricted her food intake to just a few grapes per day, causing dramatic weight loss, blackouts, headaches, nausea, and muscle weakness—all symptoms associated with disordered eating. After mentioning a recent breakup with her boyfriend, her pediatrician figured an eating disorder was the problem. If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, right? 

Not necessarily, says neuroscience researcher Melinda Karth. She wants to challenge physicians to consider the possibility of a brain tumor before assigning an eating disorder diagnosis. In the case of the 17-year-old, her symptoms worsened after diagnosis and the frequency of blackouts increased. Finally, after being rushed to the hospital to receive emergency care for the supposed eating disorder, doctors noticed her pupils were unusually dilated. A subsequent neurological exam revealed a brain tumor.

So while it may seem counterintuitive, especially with eating disorders occurring more frequently than brain tumors, Karth implores physicians to rule out the possibility of a brain tumor before finalizing an eating disorder diagnosis. It’s especially key in patients who don’t express body dissatisfaction, she said. Doing so could increase early detection of brain tumors—which can be vital to preventing permanent damage to brain areas that control important bodily functions.

“IDK What to Do”: An unprecedented number of teen boys are being extorted in sexting scams

Boys are often left out of the media conversation about needing protection from predators, but they’re vulnerable to sexual exploitation, too. With so many teens having access to the internet and social media via their own private devices, it’s easier than ever for bad actors to find young boys to hurt. One Seattle couple, Lyn and Paul, is fortunate their 17-year-old son, Michael, told them he’d been blackmailed by a person he believed was a 16-year-old girl who was interested in him sexually. He told his parents he’d communicated with the girl via Instagram and Snapchat for weeks, messaging back and forth, flirting a bit. As far as he could tell from her online profiles, she was pretty, sweet, and fun, so when she asked for a picture of himself naked, he sent it without concern. He didn’t even wonder why she insisted he include his face. That’s when things went way bad, the family told the Washington Post

Shortly after sending the picture, Michael realized he was being extorted. The person demanded that he send them hundreds of dollars through Zelle, or else, they’d send the photo to his family and friends. It’s what industry police and online safety experts call “financial sextortion,” and the number of young people falling prey has “exploded in the past couple of years,” said Lauren Coffren, executive director of the Exploited Children Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Thankfully, Michael’s parents blocked the harasser on Instagram and Snapchat and refused to pay anything, and to their teen’s overwhelming relief, they never heard from him again.

“They’re using shame, embarrassment and fear, and they’re tapping into that. They’re exploiting children’s worst nightmares,” she said. Just last year, the organization received 10,000 tips about financial sextortion, mostly from boys. This year, that number reached 12,500 by the end of July. Coffren said the rising rate of cases is concerning, particularly since she’s sure many cases go unreported. 

There are ways to help prevent this and also effectively involve law enforcement in case someone you know and love becomes a victim of financial sextortion. First, talk with your kids about the risks of sexting. If your teen does fall victim to sextortion, do not send any money and immediately stop responding to and block the harasser. But be sure to save every portion of the conversation, including the vulnerable photos: The messages can serve as vital evidence in a report to authorities. Next, report the profile to the social media platform — most should have a clear way to report harassment. Then report the crime to your local FBI field office: Call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov. You can also report the abuse to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force or the NCMEC through its CyberTipLine: Their staff can help point victims in the right direction for help. And if the photos make it online, people under 18 can get them removed through NCMEC’s Take It Down service. It has a near perfect success rate, and typically gets the photos removed within two days.

In other news…

MAGA Bluey is a problem: If you parent young children and haven’t watched Bluey yet, what are you waiting for?! It’s totally the delight the internet says it is—outside of the bizarro world of “Bluey Memes💙,” a popular group on Facebook, that is. Instead of sharing funny and relatable content about being exasperated with constantly learning life lessons, it’s morphed into a haven for homophobia, anti-abortion rhetoric, and supporters of white supremacy. “I joined because, at first, it seemed like a fairly fun, wholesome group,” Lyra Jones, a 31-year-old parent told The Atlantic. “But there was nothing that really warned about how bad it was about to get.”

A Gen Z-er on 48 with no smartphone: Best spoiler alert ever—they totally survived, even as a 23-year old journalist for one of the biggest papers in the country. Boston Globe staffer Julian E.J. Sorapuru was challenged to let his phone go for one weekend and report back. At first, the idea made him so uncomfortable, he put it off for weeks. But when his editors finally said do the story—or else—he reluctantly unplugged. Results were amazing: He became aware of his thoughts, remained alert on a road trip with a roommate, noticed the trees in his backyard, and even read a book.

Weaning your baby from the breast got you feeling bummed? You’re not alone, and scientists are eager to learn more about how postweaning depression works. The condition hasn’t been studied as thoroughly as postpartum depression, but it’s definitely real for a lot of breastfeeding parents. Katie Brownell is one of them. (Me, too.) She felt ready to watch out for signs of postpartum depression, but no one had warned her of the emotional crash that can come with weaning. “As you are dropping feeds or stopping breastfeeding, your hormones are trying to readapt,” Mary Kimmel, co-director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Washington Post. “The system needs to find a different balance depending on the situation, and some people are much more sensitive to these changes.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...